Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How Many Fans Does Dr. Horrible have? L.A. Times Breaks the Story

During the week-long run of Joss Whedon's straight-to-the-internet super villain musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, there have been numerous articles about the plot line, but also about whether this could possibly be a new model for original shows. For those in the later category, the big question on everyone's mind was viewership--just how many fans does Whedon have? Blogger Jeff McManus recently speculated on how much the show, which was available free and streaming for only a week, will bring in via iTunes sales and how much star Neil Patrick Harris will make from the venture. His estimates of iTunes downloaders ranged from 100,000 to one million--a pretty wide range-- but we finally have some hard figures.

Reporter David Sarno got the traffic data from Whedon today and published it on his blog at the LA Times. In short:

Act One: 1,149,846 streams (but it was down part of first day, due to heavy traffic)
Act Two: 625,552 streams
Act Three: 427,785 streams

Act One was up for six days, Act Two for four, and Act Three was up for two days. I would say the numbers for act three are the most reflective of the number of unique fans who tuned in (speaking as someone who viewed act one and two a dozen times to pacify myself while waiting for the final act).

In his blog, Sarno compares DHSAB to other YouTube hits this week that have been up for comparable durations. Depending on how you look at it, it's on par, especially if you look at daily average for all three acts. Two of the top three biggest YouTube hits were associated with movies: the College movie trailer and fan reactions to The Dark Knight opening. Sarno believes these examples were successful due to corporate promotion, and is quick to mention that DHSAB's success is more impressive in that it was marketed by word of mouth among the Whedonites.

If that's the case though, I think the most apt comparison is to Smosh, which is definitely not corporate and yet had the third most popular video last week. Smosh consists of two college students, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, who amassed a huge following ever since they posted a Pokemon lip-dub to YouTube in 2005 (they had to remove it due to copyright issues, but you can see it here). They have since posted 52 random sketches of themselves and have 440,285 subscriptions as of today, the most of any Comedian's channel on YouTube.

Sarno said Smosh's latest video got 550,000 hits in two days. Given that this was produced by two dudes and that the video was just a trailer for an upcoming video (yes, even their videos have trailers), person for person and buck for buck Smosh has done a lot better than Whedon, who used dozens of cast and crew to produce DHSAB and spent in the low six-figures.

How is it possible that two boys could have more fans than an established player like Whedon? While Whedon may have a couple of hit shows under his belt, what he doesn't have is an established channel like Smosh does on YouTube, with thousands of subscribers that will be alerted to every move he makes--80 percent of the views on Smosh's latest video could be accounted for by those subscriptions. Granted, Whedon does have a dedicated fan base over at Whedonesque, but there is nothing like the convenience of being alerted automatically every time your fave auteur posts a new project. Along those lines, it would have been better if Horrible was a series that could build a subscriber base over time, but the WGA strike is what allowed all these actors and writers to be available, so the point is moot.

Despite similar-sized fanbases, Whedon will probably make more money than Padilla and Hecox, who subsist on Google ads and t-shirt sales. One DHSAB revenue stream is the $3.99 download at iTunes which is the only place you can still (legally) get the entire series since it was pulled off of Sunday night. I think Jeff McMannus' first figure of 100,000 downloading fans is more accurate than one million, and based on his estimates, Joss has probably at least made his money back. No doubt some of Whedon's fan base will also pony up for the soon-to-be-released DVD, on which he plans to feature "Commentary: The Musical." Smosh's fans may watch free vids online, but I doubt they would ever pay for them.

Might Whedon also re-netcast Dr. Horrible, this time with ads, at a site like Hulu? DHSAB used the Hulu player merely to embed streaming video on their site, but normally Hulu is a destination in and of itself, a video portal for networks like Fox, NBC and major movie studios. As a portal, it has repeat visitors across a number of genres, something that Whedon could use to find new viewers, so I think it would be a wise move to engage Hulu if he's not already thinking about it. His hardcore fans have probably already gone to iTunes and will buy the DVD. Hulu would allow new watchers who would watch some ads rather than pay for it to casually check it out, perhaps as a recommendation after watching a clip of star Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother.

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